Monday, April 28, 2014

Dick Tracy

Movie Name: Dick Tracy
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Warren Beatty
Stars: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Glenne Headly, William Forsythe, Charles Durning, Dustin Hoffman, Charlie Korsmo, Ed O'Ross, Seymour Cassel, James Keane, Mandy Patinkin, Paul Sorvino, Kathy Bates, Dick Van Dyke, Catherine O'Hara, James Caan, Michael J. Pollard, Estelle Parsons
Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
"Dick Tracy" was Warren Beatty's third feature film as a director, and came after the well known flop that was Elaine May's "Ishtar". The film is an adaptation of the comic book "Dick Tracy", from Chester Gould, and it was Disney studios' attempt at capitalizing on the comic book genre, after the huge hit that was Tim Burton's "Batman" in 1989. The film follows the attempts from Dick Tracy to end organized crime, specifically the shady rulings and organization dominated by Big Boy Caprice. Caprice is a ruthless despot, who rules with an iron fist, but one who fails at getting rid of Dick Tracy. In order to do so, he ends up using this faceless person, who remains unseen, but who has an agenda behind all these criminal endeavors that touch all the city. Tracy on the other hand, has a suddenly complicated personal life, with the appearance of a small orphaned boy, and his "on the fence" relationship with Tess Trueheart.
There's never been any doubt that Warren Beatty is an intelligent film-maker. "Reds" is a classic from the 80s, and his career as a producer and actor, contains classics that have shaped the history of films since the 1960s. "Dick Tracy" was his attempt at creating a transposition of the comic book strip to the big screen - and for the most part that is succeeded. The film is a stunning achievement of production design (from Richard Sylbert), cinematography (from the stupendous Vittorio Storaro) and costume design (from the award winning Milena Canonero), however as a fully fledged film with characters, it ends up failing. The characters remain flat as the pages they are published on, and while Al Pacino makes his villain entertaining and over the top, Beatty feels miscast as Dick Tracy, while Madonna tries unsuccessfully to be the vamp with a heart. Even if the screenplay feels a bit contrived, the film is nonetheless engaging, thanks to the artistry and superb craftsmanship of all the professionals involved, that make this film a vision to behold. A flawed, yet interesting film worth exploring.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Movie Name: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Stars: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Sebastian Stan, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Haley Atwell, Toby Jones, Jenny Agutter, Callan Mulvey, Maximiliano Hernandez
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Marvel's continuous output of comic book characters continues, this time around with a sequel to Joe Johnston's "Captain America: The First Avenger", which came out in 2011. The directors this time around, are Anthony and Joe Russo, primarily known for their comedy work and for their extensive experience directing TV episodes from a multitude of shows ("Happy Endings" and "Community" to name but a few). The sequel finds Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, adjusting to life in the 21st century, after being defrosted and the adventures that took place in "The Avengers". His peaceful existence is thrown into disarray quickly enough, as he becomes aware that the organization he thought he had destroyed, Hydra, is still very much in existence and with tentacles everywhere. It's up to him with the assistance of the resourceful Black Widow and Nick Fury, to stop the conspiracy and avoid the murder of millions of people.
By now, most of Marvel's features are a result of an impeccably oiled production facility. All films come out with a well structured pace, where the robust budget is quite visible, and where the visual effects are of course state of the art. Where these films always falter, sadly so, is the lack of a perspective that makes them unique, and the result of a directorial vision that is artistic and challenging. These films aim to entertain, no muss and no fuss. The sequel to "Captain America" is no exception to this mode, however it benefits from a smart screenplay, that digs into the paranoia thrillers from the 1970s (Sydney Pollack's "Three Days of the Condor" and Alan J. Pakula's "The Paralax View", spring to mind), to create a sense of unease and general conspiracy that surrounds the central heroes. Other than this, the film feels very standard and by the numbers in terms of character dynamics and development. Action is brought forth, and the sheer scale of the scenes is impressive, to an extent that almost becomes cartoonish. The quality of the visual effects is of course on display, but it's not enough to make this film a high mark for the Marvel Universe. Highlight goes to Robert Redford, for creating a character that is the exact opposite of the ones he created during most of his acting career.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Magnolia

Movie Name: Magnolia
Year of Release: 1999
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Melinda Dillon, Alfred Molina, Jason Robards, Jeremy Blackman, Philip Baker Hall, Michael Murphy, Felicity Huffman, Ricky Jay, Michael Bowen
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10

Synopsis:
Paul Thomas Anderson's third feature, which premiered in December of 1999, proved that his previous directorial efforts, "Hard Eight" and "Boogie Nights", were not random successes, but the result of a phenomenal talent. "Magnolia" weaves a mosaic story of intertwined characters, starting with a young boy who's a prodigy, being exploited by his father in a televised talk show. The host of that show, is a soon to be retired popular entertainer, whose daughter has drug related problems. In parallel we witness the day of a new age cult, whose life is turned upside down, when he receives a phone call from a nurse, who's taking care of a dying man, who believes him to be his estranged son. The microcosms of this universe, keeps expanding with surrounding characters, which climax in a cathartic evening for all.
Paul Thomas Anderson creates with "Magnolia" a film that is perfect from all angles. Each character has an arc that creates a tangent with all the others in unexpected ways. The characters have a dimension, they are embodied with depth and resonance, and midway throughout the story, there's an event, that further elevates the sense of unity and connection that permeates the entire film. This feature has moments of sheer cinema pleasure - not just from an aesthetic perspective, but from the belief that film, as an art form, has the power to change someones perspective. The acting is uniformly superb, from Tom Cruise, to Philip Seymour Hoffman and of course, the wondrous Julianne Moore. This is a modern classic, worth watching countless times, and savor the beautiful soundtrack from Aimee Mann. Perfect.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Noah

Movie Name: Noah
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Mark Margolis
Genre: Drama, Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:
Following the successful "Black Swan", director Darren Aronofsky is back, with his interpretation of the biblical episode, involving Noah and the creation of the Arc. The film follows the story of Noah, and how he is chosen by God to build an Arc to salvage all creatures, since there's a flood of epic proportions being unleashed on Earth, to eradicate all evil and sin.
Darren Aronofsky has always been an interesting film maker, working in independent films for most of his career. "Noah" is his first big budget feature, and tackles a subject matter that on a first glance, is quite different than his other films. The common thread throughout Aronofsky's films, has always been how his main characters struggle within themselves, with their own demons, and how they are their own worst enemies (and create their own downfall). That is something that touches the character of Noah, though the scope and ambition of this film drowns what could have been a film about faith and the feverish pursuit of a vision. The film is beautifully rendered and as usual benefits from the stunning cinematography from Matthew Libatique, however that doesn't salvage it from the lack of existence of real characters with human dimension. The acting is also quite uneven - on one hand Russell Crowe provides gravitas and dimension to his character, but Jennifer Connelly is shrill and inconsistent (her accent changes frequently) and Ray Winstone again creates a villain that is flat and uninteresting (under-written). Aside from the fact the screenplay seems fragmented and incoherent, the film ends up having editing issues with the final part of the plot feeling disjointed from the rest of the narrative. A sadly missed opportunity for the usually brilliant Darren Aronofsky.